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Mark Fenske, Jackilyn Alberton, Melena Vinski, Meghan Pistchik; Consequences of visual selective attention for evaluations of affectively positive and negative stimuli. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):191. doi: 10.1167/9.8.191.
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In visual attention tasks, stimuli that must be ignored or otherwise inhibited for accurate performance subsequently receive more negative evaluations than novel stimuli or those seen as the targets of attention (e.g., Raymond, Fenske & Tavassoli, 2003). Such distractor devaluation effects have been taken as evidence that the application of attentional inhibition has negative affective consequences for visual stimuli (Fenske & Raymond, 2006). This view predicts that inhibited stimuli should be rated more negatively regardless of their a priori affective status. Here we test a competing hypothesis that attentional inhibition does not impact subsequent evaluations by eliciting a negative affective response, per se, but acts instead to affectively ‘neutralize’ a distracting stimulus. This alternate view posits an inhibition-related attenuation of emotional salience that should produce different effects depending on the valence of the ‘neutralized’ stimulus affect. By this view, attentional inhibition applied to affectively positive stimuli should depress subsequent ratings, whereas inhibition of affectively negative stimuli should enhance subsequent ratings. A pilot rating study was used to identify images of faces depicting people judged on average to be either trustworthy (affectively positive) or untrustworthy (affectively negative). Pairs of these affectively positive or negative faces were then presented to a new group of subjects in an attentional cuing task designed to associate attentional inhibition with one face from each pair. Trust judgments obtained in a subsequent evaluation phase revealed similar levels of devaluation for both sets of cued (inhibited) faces relative to the uncued (non-inhibited) faces. These results are inconsistent with an inhibitory ‘neutralization’ hypothesis, and are taken instead as evidence that attentional inhibition has negative affective consequences for visual stimuli, regardless of their prior affective status. Generating negative affect for previously distracting stimuli might serve to make it easier to avoid such items in future encounters.
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